Proud naval reservists have exercised their right to parade through Portsmouth for the first time.
More than 200 part-time sailors from HMS King Alfred took part in the march with bayonets fixed and colours flying, which they have the right to do since being granted the Freedom of the City by Portsmouth City Council in 2003.
King Alfred is Portsmouth’s naval equivalent to the Territorial Army.
As they marched through the busy city centre on Saturday, led by their marching band, curious shoppers joined those who had come to see the parade on Commercial Road, clapping and cheering them.
Catherine Harris from Paulsgrove had been out shopping with her mum, but stopped to watch when she heard the band approaching. The 33-year-old said: ‘We didn’t know there was anything going on until we saw all the barriers out.
‘But it’s good to see them because you don’t normally see something like this and it’s important to cheer them on – they do a good job.’
When the parade arrived at Guildhall Square, they took part in a service which saw several medals presented for service in Afghanistan.
Members of the reserves serve in military operations across the globe.
Lieutenant Christiaan Hesse, 47, from Hindhead, was awarded the Afghanistan Operational Service Medal and first became involved with the reservists while at university before joining the regular army. Now an IT consultant, he said: ‘It’s a rare thing for us to be able to step out and show ourselves off to our community.
‘There’s been a real pride in being able to come out and look smart, marching in front of the population of Portsmouth.’
John and Kerry Mitchell with five-year-old daughter Louise, from Lynn Road in Copnor, gathered with dozens of other members of the public on the steps in front of the civic offices to watch the service.
Mr Mitchell, 40, said: ‘We wanted to show our support for the navy – and Kerry’s sister works for the reservists.
‘It’s important that we should show our moral support for our armed forces.’
Paying tribute to the reservists, Lord Mayor Councillor Cheryl Buggy praised their ‘loyalty, skills and dedication’ as well as their professionalism and told them: ‘No-one makes you join the reservists, it’s something you volunteer to do on top of your day job and credit should be given for that.’
King Alfred’s commanding officer, Commander Kevin Robertson, said: ‘As commanding officer and a proud native of the city, to exercise the right to march through the city is a rare honour and a privilege. We are proud and delighted to be part of this historic occasion.’
The service finished with the reservists delivering a salute to the Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire Mary Fagan.
Trish Openshaw, of Copythorn Road, North End, was there with daughter Becky Cornwell to see husband Petty Officer Mick Openshaw.
Mrs Openshaw said: ‘It’s a fantastic day, and not before time. I know the guys were really excited about this.
‘It’s nice to see everyone celebrating something that will go on rather than it being for a ship getting decommissioned or something closing down.’
Although the Whale Island-based unit can often be seen at Remembrance Day parades this was the first time they had gone it alone.
Able Seaman Denise Wright, from Fontwell, added: ‘It’s a wonderful, proud moment for us and it is an honour to represent King Alfred, plus the weather helped play its part.’
Natasha Senn, 25, joined the reservists nearly two years ago to become their first female diver. She said: ‘It was great to take part. I can’t believe how many people were lining the streets. I was worried there wouldn’t be anyone, but we even had little kids trying to keep in step.’